Science and Health

Scientists Translate Gesture Language Of Chimpanzees

A team of researchers has deciphered the meaning behind some of chimpanzees' social interactions.

Scientists Translate Gesture Language Of Chimpanzees
Flickr / Tambako The Jaguar

Scientists have cracked the chimpanzee code, deciphering part of the system of gestures and interactions by which our genetic relatives communicate.

Researchers at the University of St. Andrews studied the behaviors of a tribe of chimpanzees in Uganda. They were looking for specific gestures performed when one chimp wanted something from another chimp. (Via National Geographic, Flickr / Dan Moutal)

The researchers recorded 66 different gestures, and 19 desired outcomes — most of the gestures had multiple meanings. From there, they narrowed the list down to 36 intentional actions used with 15 purposes outside of playing around. (Via Current Biology)

One of the lead researchers, Dr. Catherine  Hobaiter, told the BBC this study is significant because it demonstrates chimpanzees communicate intentionally, with a desired outcome.

"We can finally say for the first time that another animal communication system has meaning. Not just information, or not just complicated communication, but actual meaningful communication."

But as Wired points out, the study was limited to blunt physical interactions between animals. "Those that convey something more subtle — two chimps talking about the weather, for example, or reminiscing about the good old days — can't now be interpreted."